By (Matthew Speakman)

A five-star talent produced a five-star game for Alabama.

Time after time, freshman guard John Petty, a five-star recruit in high school, ran off a screen, caught the ball, and threw up a three-pointer no matter how many people were guarding him. Most of the night, it went in.

Petty caught fire early and finished with 27 points on 8-of-13 shooting from beyond the arc to power Alabama to a 76-71 win over No. 17 Auburn, ending the Tigers’ 14-game winning streak.

On a night where Alabama was missing its leading scorer in freshman guard Collin Sexton, Petty took the reins of the offense.

“I just knew I had to step up,” Petty said. ‘We all knew we had to step up, since a lot of our scoring – Collin Sexton – was out tonight. I came out and made a couple of threes and just felt great.”

Five of Petty’s eight three pointers came in the second half, with four of those coming in the first seven minutes. He added a pull-up jumper to bring his second-half point total to 18.

He connected on a three just 16 seconds into the second half. From there, he felt like he could make everything.

“When I hit about four or five, I’m fully in the zone,” Petty said. “That’s when it’s really feeling good. So, I just keep shooting.”

Alabama also relied on another freshman, guard Herbert Jones, to make plays with Sexton out with an abdominal injury. Jones filled the stat sheet, tallying up 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals.

Jones filled a different role in this game, too. He played a lot of point guard with Sexton being on the bench. It was his first time playing on the ball for most of the game since high school.

He said he felt comfortable. His coach agreed.

“He’s a really good passer,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. “He did look like the guy that we recruited that handled the ball a lot.”

Jones, who prides himself on his defense, was a big reason why Auburn only connected on 35 percent of its three pointers. That’s down from the 55 percent the Tigers made last season in Tuscaloosa.

Auburn also scored only 71 points, which is its lowest total of the season. Jones’ performance on both ends of the floor impressed Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.

“He’s a great player,” Pearl said. “I love Herb Jones. I love his game. He’s got such upside.”

Sexton’s absence proved to have little impact because of Jones and Petty. Still, injuries are not easy to deal with. Johnson said Sexton is day-to-day with that abdominal injury that he suffered in Monday’s practice.

Johnson said he was pleased with how Alabama ran its offense without the point guard on the floor.

“Considering all that [Sexton] does for our team, I liked the way we responded,” Johnson said.

Along with Sexton, Alabama was almost without forward Donta Hall, who had surgery on his wrist over the last weekend.

Originally listed as a game-time decision, Hall ultimately ended up playing for the Crimson Tide. While he didn’t do much to write home about, Hall’s eagerness to get back on the floor inspired his teammates.

“I wasn’t going to play him, but he sat down and talked to me and said, ‘Coach, I really need to play,’” Johnson said. “…The team really fed off of Donta wanting to play tonight.”

That inspiration took Alabama a long way and earned the team its second win over a ranked opponent this season. It also snapped a two-game losing streak to the Tigers. Alabama is now 12-6 on the season, and 4-2 in conference play

The win also boosted Alabama’s resume. Auburn was ranked No. 5 in RPI before tonight.

“If I was sitting on the other side, I would be pleased to be able to get the win in the rivalry with a couple players being out and knowing that they can play better,” Pearl said. “I think I would feel pretty good.”

Alabama is now on a three-game winning streak after the loss to Georgia on the road on Jan. 6. The mindset of the team changed that night, and Alabama knew it was at a crossroads. Now, the team feels like it is on a roll, and has the right attitude moving forward.

“Those losses we had, that was a bad feeling left in us,” Petty said. “After that Georgia loss, we all came in and practiced extremely hard and told each other that we had each other’s backs and that we won’t lose anymore.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports